Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Diner: Meatpacking District (Brunch)

It’s kinda crazy that in a city filled with thousands upon thousands of restaurants, many of which proudly serve a weekend brunch, anyone could ever have trouble finding a good brunch spot. However, that’s the problem we faced on Sunday morning when deciding where to eat. We couldn’t think of anywhere new to go & we weren’t in the mood to head back to our local favorites. We started walking around hoping that the answer would come to us.

A short walk from Jess’ apt, it’s amazing that we had never eaten at The Diner before. It’s in the heart of the Meatpacking District, has great indoor & outdoor seating options (great for people-watching), and a casual vibe with flat screen TVs & magazine racks lining the walls.

I’ll get the negative out of the way… $3.50 for an iced coffee & NO free refills?!?!? Starbucks is more reasonable.

OK, now on to the positive (the rest of the meal):

We each went healthy and ordered the egg white omelet with broccoli, mushrooms, & red peppers. We added some cheese & split a side of turkey bacon. Throw in a plate filled with a small salad, home fries, & toast and you have yourself a healthy & hearty breakfast. Nothing too fancy, but it hit the spot nonetheless.
We both enjoyed our time here and will be coming back for the banana chocolate chip pancakes (when we don’t feel like being healthy). Plus, our mouths were watering at the various burger options on the menu (beef, chicken, veggie, turkey & more – all for $10.95). Check out the menu & more at http://www.thedinernyc.com/

Monday, May 24, 2010

Magnolia Bakery - Banana Pudding!

On a recent walk in the West Village, Eric's sweet tooth was calling. "Let's walk to Insomnia Cookies in the East Village," he says. "Ehhhhhhhh....but Magnolia is right around the corner!" I suggest. Eric's not a full-blown "cupcake person" as it seems like everyone is these days, but we decide to go and try their banana pudding, which we heard was great.

And boy is it fantastic. Creamy, just-sweet-enough banana pudding with freshly sliced bananas and moist vanilla cake chunks inserted throughout... sweet tooth gone! The "small" serving ($4.50) is quite a bit of puddding and if you're not looking for a big dessert then this is fine to share between 2 or 3 people.

With cupcakes feeling played out these days (and I do enjoy Magnolia's cupcakes more than the other big competitors: Crumbs, Buttermilk, even Baked By Melissa...I guess I'm a frosting gal), the banana pudding is an exciting treat for any occasion, or no occasion at all!

Il Bastardo

Il Bastardo, in the heart of Chelsea, does the trick when looking for a Saturday night date spot with a nice atmosphere, full bar, and great food. Outdoor seating is available, but on this chilly evening we chose to sit in the dining room with the bar. There were two other large dining rooms further back in the restaurant that also had a nice ambience. The place has a very dark, polished feel to it but the abundance of wooden tables and dark woodsy colors makes it feel cozy and comfortable.

The baked eggplant appetizer was pretty much Eggplant Parm served in the pan- which was not well-described on the menu. It's a nice portion so you can easily split this before digging into your entree. We wouldn't recommend more than a 1/2 app per person because the entrees are large and the complimentary bread with olive oil and balsamic can easily fill you up if you're not careful.

My skirt steak was marinated and topped with a chimmichurri sauce, which made for a delicious piece of steak. It didn't hurt that the meat was cooked to medium-rare perfection! Served with sauteed spinach and mashed potatoes, you really can't ask for more from a skirt steak entree. I would recommend this to anyone in the mood for some steak.

Jess ordered the pounded chicken breast, served with mesclun and tomatoes. While this is a plain dish at heart, it really lacked flavor. If looking for something healthy, this is a good option, although I think I've made better versions of this dish myself.

For 1 app, 2 entrees, 3 dirty martinis ($14 each!), tip & tax, the total came to $113... Much steeper than what we thought we were getting into, but that might be our own fault for ordering $42 worth of alcohol.

Overall, it was a good meal but I don't see us rushing back to eat here. I can think of many more delicious options for an Italian meal, although perhaps not in Chelsea.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Yerba Buena Perry (Brunch)

After running the Brooklyn Half-Marathon, Jess & I headed to Yerba Buena Perry for a hearty, celebratory meal with our parents. The outside of YBP is very unassuming, and before entering, we were unsure if the place was even open. This would be OK if the restaurant was packed, but it was at best 1/3 full. Makes us think that the look of the exterior is doing the restaurant a disservice. Many passerby's wouldn't even know that inside is a Latin restaurant with great food & tasty cocktails.

The "good bartender" was behind the bar so we all indulged in a celebratory drink - bloody mary's, blueberry gimlets, & a mojito. Everyone enjoyed their respective drinks & every last drop was devoured by the meal's end ;-)

The guacamole to start was smoky, chunky, & topped with queso fresco. I'm not the biggest fan of smoky guac, but this worked well with the layer of cheese on top balancing it out. The chips were a bit salty and served already dipped into the guac. Interesting presentation.

We ordered the sausage chorizo side dish as an appetizer & it comes with one sweet sausage & one spicy chorizo. Both were stellar and some people liked the sweet better, while others preferred the spicy... all about what tickles your taste buds.

Jess got the tilapia fish tacos, which were quite good but a little weak on the portion size. We both felt that for $13 they should serve you 3 tacos, rather than 2 small tacos. The dish did come with a healthy portion of rice & beans, but that's not why anyone orders that dish & YBP should know that.

There was no complaining about the portion of my dish, the Cubano Sandwich:

In between two pieces of freshly toasted baguette was serrano ham, BBQ suckling pig, brie cheese, chipotle mustard, & pickles. This sandwich was hearty & delicious... exactly what I was looking for! The crunchy bread was perfect, the brie cheese was strong enough to cut through the layers of pork, & both the ham & pig were uber-tasty. Served alongside Papas Provenzal - long, thin potato chips - and a side salad, this dish was a big winner in my book!!

To satisfy our sweet tooth, the table split the churros - served with mexican hot chocolate, that's so sweet it should be illegal. One mini churro per person with a follow-up sip of hot chocolate hit the spot!

Worth mentioning was that the french toast was out-of-this-world amazing.

We'll definitely be back to YBP to sample this savory dish for brunch & see what they can offer to a couple of restaurant hoppers for dinner.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

April… The Missing Month!

We think we would be ignoring the elephant in the room if we didn’t explain our absence from this blog in April… No excuses, we completely dropped the ball. And for that, we are both sorry, and promise not to let it happen again, dear followers!

And if there is anything positive to take away from our hiatus, it’s that we both missed Restaurant Hoppers dearly and felt like a part of the dining experience was missing. We think blogging extends the lifespan of a meal & allows us to relive the experience.

While we were off the grid we headed to a bunch of restaurants, and even though we’re not going to do a write-up on each one of them, we’ll share with you the list & a few quick thoughts. If you are thinking about heading to any of these spots, please drop us a line and we’ll share with you our experience in more detail, and hopefully be able to provide you with some suggestions that will improve your dining experience:

Cafeteria – Great outdoor seating for people-watching. Mac & Cheese Spring Rolls and Mac & Cheese Sampler are heavenly. Turkey burger & salads are great as well.

Pepe Giallo – Great find! Cute, inexpensive, and delicious Italian food . Be sure to sit in the back garden area and once you catch a whiff of the truffle oil pasta, you won’t be able to order anything else.

Num Pang – Meatball, pulled pork, & pork belly sandwiches were all phenomenal.

Stand – Quality burger and a great beer selection. Didn’t try, but I hear milkshakes are also great.

Piccolo Angelo – Delicious Italian food, and the meatball entrĂ©e/app is worth the visit.

A Casa Fox – A delicious tapas restaurant that’s a fun place to hit up before going out on the weekend. Small and cramped quarters make for a social experience.

Tipsy Parson – Cute brunch spot… Mushroom Toast With Eggs was the best dish we had (out of 2). We'll definitely be coming back for the famed Luther Burger (Bacon-Cheeseburger in between two doughnuts)!

Mary’s Fish Camp – Small, long waits, stinks of fish, semi-expensive, and somehow we left with a smile on our face. Sharing a full fish was quite the experience & all the starters/sides were great – especially the corn!

Ardesia – Out-of-the-way wine bar with a happy hour until 8. Plus, a great selection & helpful service… Get in the way of it!

Grey Dog (breakfast, brunch, lunch & dinner) – The omelets, sandwiches, and salads are all phenomenal. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu – meal, snack, or drink. It’s a local favorite of ours for any meal of the day.

Barmarche – A cozy spot in the West Village – eclectic drink menu and delicious crispy bass tacos.

Coppola’s East – Any pasta dish I’ve had at this Murray Hill staple has always been good.

Muzzarella’s – $6 for a quality chicken parm hero that’s as big as your entire arm!

La Carbonara – A surprisingly delicious Italian place on W. 14th street, among the hustle and bustle. This restaurant serves the classics but where they lack in creativity, they make up in flavor.

ABC Kitchen – This place deserves a full write-up, and we hope to give you one in a few weeks when we re-visit it. Very cool atmosphere in this new, sustainable Jean-Georges joint. Some of the shared plates fell flat but most were enjoyed thoroughly. Highlights: clam whole wheat pizza, mackerel sashimi.

Isabella's – BR Guest spot on the UWS does the trick if you are looking for a quality restaurant with a diverse menu. Outdoor seating for people-watching is a plus!

Dumont Burger – Come for the burger and stay for the burger, onion rings, & beer. The chipotle mayo for the onion rings (& frickles) is out-of-this-world good. A must-try for any burger lover out there!

Boqueria – Tapas, tapas, tapas at this Flatiron joint. Been here twice & never had anything bad so navigate the large menu with confidence.

Angelica Kitchen – A low-key vegetarian BYOB joint with some delicious options that don’t make you miss the meat.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rye House (Bar)

Quickie blog... Rye House on 17th Street between 5th & 6th Avenue is a great, great bar. We just sat down at the bar for a drink, but they also have booths in the back for dinner. We noticed that they had a truffled grilled cheese sandwich on the menu so we'll probably be back for some grub.

If you are in the area and are looking for a watering hole, head over to Rye House and enjoy!

The Spotted Pig

We headed down to The Spotted Pig at 6:30 on a Saturday evening expecting to get seated between 7:30 & 8. The host gave us a 1-hour wait time, so we strolled upstairs to the bar for a cocktail or two before getting seated. Before the Devils on Horseback were even delivered to us, we were seated! Turns out 1 hour was only 15 minutes.. score!

Their martini was served purple w/ kalamata olives, and the Old Speckled Hen beer (an amber) was roughly 20-24 ounces... a great deal (or at least as good of a deal as you can expect from The Spotted Pig).
The Devils on Horseback was mentioned on Food Network's "Best Thing I Ever Ate" and it's certainly the best bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds that I've ever had the luxury of eating ;-) While it might be tough to screw this up, it's also not easy to blow away all previous renditions of this dish. They did! The bacon was cooked perfectly with no chewy fat, and the rest of it just melted in your mouth. It didn't hurt that I'm a date-lover. Five of these for $7 is a great way to start you off.
Next came the ricotta gnudi, which our helpful waiter told us was their specialty. He wasn't lying. It's 8 balls of ricotta cheese served in a brown butter & sage mixture... Once again, it's hard to mess this combo up. Nonetheless, it was nailed, and is a great appetizer for a table of 4, or in this case a table of 2. What can we say? We felt like splurging!

I read a bunch of reviews raving about the chicken liver toast, so I figured that would be a harmless "bar snack" to throw on the table... We were expecting a few crackers with a modest helping of liver... WRONG! It's a very healthy heaping of chicken liver piled on top of a large, crunchy piece of bread. It was quite good, but a bit over the top after already having two apps. Plus, we wanted to save some room for the stars of the show... the entrees: After the older woman next to us described the above pork dish as "orgasmic," I couldn't not order it. And, as the saying goes, "When in Rome..." Turns out, she was spot on! It was a large portion of super flavorful, tender, lean pork under some roasted shallots & scallions. I'm not a pork guy at all, but this dish might have converted me. An intense amount of flavor filled my mouth with every bite & I never wanted the dish to end. I was a happy camper:
Jess agreed with my assessment as she never turned down an offer to have a bite.

Jess went a bit lighter with her entree & ordered the sea bass with fennel & salsa verde. The bass was cooked perfectly as the crispy skin had a great crunch to it, and the rest of the fish was nice & flakey. This dish also had tons of flavor from the salsa verde. It came with a salad on the side in a lemon-y vinaigrette.
The side dish of roasted onions & sage pesto looked too good on paper not to order... I'm glad we did cause it looked good on the plate, and tasted even better in our mouths! A must-get if you like roasted onions & pesto.

As you can tell, we would whole-heartedly recommend The Spotted Pig to anyone looking for an over-the-top delicious meal. Don't expect to go there and leave feeling healthy about what you ate, but if you can forget about that for one night you'd be hard-pressed to find a better meal.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ippudo - Ramen Wars

Hello stranger! It's been awhile since Eric or I have posted, but we haven't forgotten about Restaurant Hoppers...our absence has made our hearts grow fonder for it. And what a better place to begin blogging again than Ippudo?!?!

Now, it was only a few short months ago that we went to Momofuku Noodle Bar, which blew our mind. When a friend told me that Ippudo has even BETTER ramen, I couldn't wait to try it and was a little skeptical. The reviews we read online all had Ippudo victorious in the NYC ramen battle. We were in.

Even during the week, and supposedly even during lunch, there is at least an hour wait. The bar was crowded but we did manage to find a spot to sip on some beer and wine until our names were called. We were told the wait would be an hour and a half but it only wound up being 45 minutes.
The atmosphere upon entering the dining room is infectious - the chefs yell as you walk by and the dining room is filled with people slurping their ramen bowls up with big spoons and chatting away. They really do pack you in but it's a surprisingly large space - much bigger than Momo.
We really did a throwdown between Momofuku and Ippudo by ordering the exact same thing at each. Pork buns > ramen. The pork buns at Ippudo had a great sauce and lettuce for some crunch, which was positive, but I must say that the lack of pork meat left a bad taste in my mouth. You only got two good bites with meat before you were left with a squishy bun and that's it! +1 for Momo. The Akamaru ramen bowls at Ippudo are wonderful - large, filled with lots of stuff and a delicious chutney/paste in the middle of the bowl so that when you stir it around, the broth takes on a heavenly, savory flavor. So the ramen bowl did redeem the pork buns, however I'm going to have to give Momo +1 for the ramen battle because my personal taste is in favor of their lighter broth, lots of cucumbers and scallions and the ginger flavor. However, Eric gives the +1 to Ippudo for ramen - to each his own. As I said to him last night, Ippudo gives you the dirty dirty ramen and Momo is a little more healthy-feeling, not as salty.

Overall, Ippudo is worth its "wait" in ramen! But we can't give it the definitive win for Best Ramen in NYC. What does everyone else think?